“Beautiful Izmir”, lies on the shore of a long and narrow gulf, furrowed by ships and yachts. Palm-lined promenades and avenues follow the shoreline, and the city gently ascends the slopes of the surrounding mountains. This cosmopolitan, modern and lively settlement is the third largest city of Turkey. It is also surrounded with beautiful beaches and famous summer resorts. It is not difficult to understand why early civilizations were flourished in this fruitful geography..
The history of Izmir, dates back around 8-9000 years according the recent excavations. The original city was established in the third millennium B.C. (at present day Bayrakli), at the same period with Troia. In the first millennium B.C. Izmir, then known as Smyrna, was one of the important cities of the lonian Federation; during this period it is believed that Homer hed lived here.
In the fourth century B.C. a new city was built at the instigation of Alexander the Great on the slopes of Mt. Pages (Kadifekale). Izmir’s Roman period, from the first century B.C. Byzantine rule followed in the fourth century and lasted until the Seljuk conquest in the 11th century. In 1415, under Sultan Mehmet Celebi, Izmir became part of the Ottoman Empire.
Homer; Melesigenes (son of Meles)
The river Meles (more appropriately described as “Meles Brook”, is a stream charged with history and famous in literature. Homer was also called Melesigenes (son of Meles) by the name of the brook which flowed by Smyrna, and today, through Izmir. His figure was one of the stock types on coins of Smyrna, showed the poet sitting, holding a volumen on his knees, and supporting his chin on his right hand was called “Homerian” by numismatists. The epithet Melesigenes (which means, “son of Meles” was applied to him. The cave where he was to compose his poems was described as being near the source of the river, his temple, the Homereion, stood on its banks. A photograph taken in 1880, shows the Roman-built (also used in Byzantine and Ottoman times) Kızılçullu aqueducts on the present-day and historically very discutable Meles Brook in Buca, İzmir, near which a cave associated with Homer is also found. An anonymous Homeric hymn indicates Artemis the goddess, “having watered her horses in deep-reeded Meles, drove swiftly through Smyrna to Klaros rich in vines”. Furthermore, a “Homeros Valley”, several kilometers from the nearest possible Meles and which is not located in the basin of any of them, was recently set up as a recreational area by the Municipality of Greater İzmir.
The Biblical Smyrna
The second city of the seven churches of Revelation to receive the message from the Apostle John was Smyrna. Smyrna was established thirty-five miles north of Ephesus on the road that lead to Pergamum. All the seven churches in Revelation are located in western Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), accessible by the Aegean Sea and the ancient trade routes between the West and East and close to ancient Smyrna, present day Izmir.
1. Ephesus – The desirable church that left its first love (Revelation 2:1-7).
2. Smyrna – The persecuted church that suffered poverty and martyrdom (Revelation 2:8-11).
3. Pergamum – The worldly church that mixed doctrines and needed to repent (Rev. 2:12-17).
4. Thyatira – The false church that followed a seductive prophetess (Rev. 2:18-29).
5. Sardis – The “dead” church that fell asleep (Revelation 3:1-6).
6. Philadelphia – The church of brotherly love that endures patiently (Revelation 3:7-13).
7. Laodicea – The “lukewarm” church with a faith that’s neither hot nor cold (Rev. 3:14-22).
The House of Virgin Mary- Ephesus
Most scholars agree that the Virgin Mary lived for a time in Ephesus although some dispute that she died there. The evidence in favour of Mary having spent her last years in Ephesus is both factual and logical. The first factual evidence is the biblical historical documentation of Mary’s relationship to St. John the Apostle. There is no dispute among historians that John, after the death of Jesus, went to Ephesus.
Further evidence that Mary lived in or near Ephesus is the fact that the third Ecumencial Council of the Catholic Church was held in Ephesus. This council, which met in a large cathedral known as the Double Church of St. Mary, was primarily called to formalize the doctrine known as “Theotokos”, Greek for “Mary, Mother of God.” In a letter from the Council Fathers, addressed to all the clergy announcing this doctrine, it added that the Council was conducted in Ephesus “in which place John the Theologian and the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God were.” The word “were” is interpreted as meaning “until death”.
The first Pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary’s house took place in 1896, five years after the discovery of “ The House of the Virgin”. Pope Paul VI visited the shrine on July 26, 1967, and ‘unofficially’ confirmed its authenticity. Pope John Paul II also visited the shrine, on November 30, 1979 after an official visit to Ankara. Pope John-Paul II declared the Shrine of Virgin Mary has a pilgrimage place for Christians. Pope Benedict XVI visited this shrine on November 29, 2006 during his four-day pastoral trip to Turkey. This holy place of pilgrimage is visited by Moslems as well as the Christian world.
Saint Polycarp bishop of Smyrna
The Church of St. Polycarp, in the city center, reminds the modern visitor that Polycarp, an Apostolic Father and student of the Apostle John, was martyred in the city in 155 CE. His famous speech concerning his dedication to Jesus is recalled here. Polycarp of Smyrna was a bishop and martyr of the early Church and the writer and subject, respectively, of two of the works in the collection called the Apostolic Fathers. His memory occupies an important place in the history of the early Christian Church. He is among the earliest Christians whose writings survive.
Jewish Heritage in Smyrna
Izmir is home to a very ancient and historic Jewish community, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries C.E. Inscriptions from this time show that a Jewish community flourished in the old trading town, but it dwindled during the Middle Ages.
With the conquest of the area by the Ottoman Empire in the year 1424, Two Ottoman sultans extended invitations to the Jews persecuted in Western Europe, mostly from Spain and Portugal – from Muhammad II in the mid-15th century and from Bayazid II in 1492, during the time of the Spanish Expulsion. Most of them settled in places like Salonika (now called Thessaloniki), Manisa, and Tire, but in the middle of the 16th century, Jews began arriving in the seaport town of Smyrna.
By the beginning of the 17th century, Jews had set up their own synagogues, established their own leadership institutions, and had made contact with other Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire. The first rabbi of Izmir was Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Dayan, who came from Istanbul, and settled there in 1609. Other rabbis played a role in shaping Izmir’s Jewish community, such as Rabbi Yosef Ishkapa, who came around 1620, and Rabbi Isaac De Alba. In 1648, Joseph Escapa of Salonika was appointed rabbi over all the congregations, and Izmir had become one of the three major Jewish centers in the Ottoman world
The Jews from Izmir came from a variety of different places. Some came from the surrounding villages and towns, such as Manisa, Tire, and Salonika, while others came from farther places both inside outside the Ottoman Empire, such as Istanbul, Safed, Ankara, many islands in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, Italy, and Holland. Other Jews in Izmir at this time were Portuguese converts who had left the Iberian Peninsula and returned to Judaism. In 1626, Shabbatei Zvi was born in Izmir, the charismatic founder of the Shabta’ut movement, or Sabbatean Messianism.
There was a very active Jewish communal life in Izmir in the 17th century, which consisted of six different congregations, including Kahal Bakish (Sason), built in the Kish yard in the 16th century; Kahal Portugal and Neve Shalom, presided over by Rabbi Haim and his son Israel Benbenishti, and included some friends of Shabbatei Zvi that helped shape his ideology; Kahal Pinto, built in the 1640s or 1650s and included an adjacent yeshiva; Kahal Giveret (Senvora), founded in 1660 which still exists today; Kahal Algazi, built in the 1660s, and was the location of the “Affair on Shabbat,” when Shabbatei Zvi declared his control of the community; and Kahal Orchim, which was destroyed during an earthquake in 1688 and subsequently rebuilt, and was one of Rabbi Haim Abulafia’s synagogues in the 1830s.
In 1631, the Jewish community of Izmir named a Chief Rabbinate to preside over all over the congregations. Two important rabbis helped shape Jewish communal life – Rabbi Yosef Ishkapa in the 1650s, and Rabbi Haim Benbenishti in the 1660s. Sephardic Jewish life dominated the culture of Izmir during this time, and the Jewish communal structure was extremely vibrant. In 1772, a huge fire ravished Izmir, and all of the synagogues were destroyed. It was not until 1792 that new synagogues were built to replace the old ones. Throughout the 1860s, Jews founded their own institutions, like schools and hospitals, and the community began to modernize. By the end of the 19th century, Jewish life in Izmir flourished, and there were 55,000 Jews living there. But due to the worsening economic situation in the Ottoman Empire, a mass migration of Jews from Izmir took place in the early 20th century.
Jewish synagogues and sites in Izmir; Sha’ar Hashamaim Synagogue, Bikur Holim Synagogue, Shalom Synagogue, Portugali Synagogue, Algazi Synagogue, Giveret (Senora) Synagogue, Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Hevra Synagogue, Beth Israel Synagogue, Rosh Ha’ar Synagogue, Karatas Hospital, Gur Cesme Cemetery, Tomb of Rabbi Hayim Palaggi (1788-1869)
(Sources: Hecht, Esther. “Izmir.” Hadassah Magazine. October 2006.)
Turkish and Islamic Culture
As mentioned above Izmir is a cosmopolitan city and reflects the lifestyle and architecture accordingly. The Islamic heritage dates back almost to 15th century. The important mosques, caravanserais, fountains, tombs were builded after than. Most of these monuments take place around the colorfull old bazaar, Kemeralti.
* Hisar Mosque: Is the largest mosque in izmir, is said to have been built in 1598.
* Basdurak Mosque: According to the 17th century traveller Evliya Celebi it was built in 1652.
* Kestane Pazan Mosque: Built in 1668.
* Corak Kapi Mosque: It is in the Basmane district, said to have been built in 1747.
* Konak Yalı Mosque: Located in front of the Government House it was built in 1754.
* Kursunlu Mosque: The oldest mosque in the city, it is thought to have been built in the 16th century by Sultan Selim 1.
* Shadirvan Mosque: Built in the 16th century.
* Kizlaragasi Mosque and Han: Thought to have been built in 1745. Built on the plan of a market han.
Summer Resorts Around Izmir
The summer resort of Çesme is very popular with the beautiful residents,vivid social life, sandy beaches and hot springs nearby Izmir. Every year an international music festival is held here, attracting some of the world’s leading performers. Modern Çesme is adjacent to the antique Ionian city of Eriythrai, additionally an 14th century castle and the ruins of an ancient caravanserai adds a historical dimensions to the summer resort..
Foça is situated on the site of the ancient city of “Phocea”, and is said to have been founded by the very same people who founded the French city of Marseilles, Attalia in Corsica and Ampurias in Catalonia, Spain. Foca is jeweled with a group of small beautiful islands. Orak and Incir islands are known as Sirens’ rocks mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. According to the epic, unwary sailors, were hypnotized and lured by the Sirens’ songs, crashed their ships into these rocks. Some of these islands and rocky islets provide a perfect habitat for the Mediterranean Monk Seals..
Urla is in the middle of the peninsula and holds all the characteristics of the Aegean. It lies 38km west of Izmir and used to be a cultural centre with remains unearthed dating back to the Hitties. It was originally the site of the rich Ionian city of Clazomenae, with probably the oldest regularly used port in the world. Pieces of art and sculptures found during excavations are now exhibited in the Louvre, Athens National Museum and Izmir Archaeology Museum.
Seferihisar famous for its beaches and thermal springs, is Turkey’s first ‘cittaslow’. The ruins of Teos are set amidst olive groves at one end of Sigacik harbour near Seferihisar, Thales relates that Teos was selected as capital of the league of twelve Ionian cities in the 7th centur y BC. The largest temple of Dionysus ever built in Teos.
Karaburun is at the northern point of the Urla Peninsula, and its northern and western coasts have beautiful natural beaches. There were settlements in this area which date back to the Stone Age, and excavations have indicated it was a developed cultural centre during the Hittite period, then a trading centre during the Aiol, Lydia and Roman civilisations. It is now a new discovered suburb of Izmir, and has a couple of small hotels, guest houses and fish restaurants.
Menderes province, which draws attention with its satsuma, beautiful bays and historical values, is 20 km. away from İzmir. Lebedos Antic City is at west of province at Urkmez region. Ruins of Kolophon, Klaros, Notion and Lebedos Antic Cities, which are on Menderes – Seljukian road as adjacent to each other, are composing the important archeological sources of the province. Gumuldur borough is the producer region of Satsuma, which is a world famous kind of tangerine. Özdere is one of the nine big tourism regions of Aegean Region, and it is a tourism borough where amateur fishermen can fish besides its clear sea and coast. Various colored and shaped beads which are produced in natives at Gorece Village of Menderes, attracts the attention of national and international tourists.
Aliağa, which is 60 km. north of İzmir, have signes of İzmir and Bergama civilizations. 4 of the 12 cities, composing the biggest and most important ones among Aiol cities, whose number is exceeding 30 at Aegean coasts, are within Aigai, Kyme, Myrna and Gryneion province territories.
Dikili is a pretty province and popular summer resort, around 120km north of Izmir. Candarli is nearby, and the area is full of natural beauty as well as historical interest. There is a crater lake in Medivenli village, and pine groves and ancient caverns in Demirtas and Delitas. The area is also famous for its hot springs, which can be found in Nebiler, Bademli and Kocaoba villages. The port at Dikili is large enough for three passenger ships, and is a good transport connection.
Kusadasi, one of Turkey’s principle holiday resorts, situated on the west coast, 90km south of Izmir. as it is close to the important historical sites including Ephesus, Didyma, Priene, Miletos-the principals of ancient times, and ideal for sightseers. Numerous sandy beaches with warm&clear waters, provides a great variety of water and beach facilities. This pretty town welcomes cruise ships and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. Kusadasi is lives parallel to Ephesus in history and the settlements around it.
Ayvalik is about 2 hours distance from Izmir, located at the north Aegean shores. With its rich architectural heritage, Ayvalık is a member of the Norwich-based European Association of Historic Towns and Regions (EAHTR). Islets encircling the bay area are popular holiday resorts. The most important and the biggest of these islets is Cunda Island (Alibey Island). Since September 1998, Ayvalık has had an international music academy. Besides, USA based Harvard University and Turkey’s Koç University have establihed a joint project in Cunda Island of Ayvalık and run a Harvard-Koç University Intensive Ottoman & Turkish Summer School every summer. Ayvalık has two of the longest sandy beaches of Turkey which extend as far as the Dikili district of İzmir nearly 30 km (19 mi) in the south. These are the Sarımsaklı and Altınova beaches and has become an important point of attraction for scuba divers with its underwater fauna. Ayvalık and its environs are famous for the highly appreciated quality of olive oil production.